Designer of the month – Susanne Ouellet

The designer of this month is the amazing Su. I don’t think I have met anyone with quite so much energy and enthusiasm for what she does than Su. She first caught my attention when she was still travelling through Asia with her stunning landscape photography and conviction that you can knit anywhere including when sitting at a beach. Su was featured on this blog before when she kindly agreed to share some of her experience on knitting while travelling and I am very fortunate that she was also willing to be interviewed as the designer of the month. Especially because she has also recently started a newsletter to help people in the fibre industry with their business skills which I certainly signed up for.

brioche scarf

When did you learn to knit? Did someone teach you or did you teach yourself?

I first learned to knit when I was about 6 or 7. My mother taught me the basic knit stitch, and I happily knit a couple of simple things, like a scarf, but never really got into it until much later, after graduating from university. I was living with my parents at the time and applying for jobs, and felt like I had way too much time on my hands. I ended up finding some of my grandmother’s old knitting books and decided to knit a pair of baby booties for my sister-in-law. It was a bit of a challenging project for not having knit anything much more complicated than a scarf before that, and they each turned out different sizes. Even still, I remember feeling like this whole world of possibilities had just opened up to me at that moment. The things I could knit! I started to look up different patterns, bought some supplies, and started buying yarn on Knit Picks. That was when I got serious with my knitting.

brioche design

Why did you start designing? What gave you the idea?

I first thought about designing my own pattern while I was traveling and working on my Wooly Ventures blog. This might sound a bit crazy, but one of the reasons I wanted to start designing was because I felt it was something I just had to do if I wanted to be taken seriously as a knitting blogger. I had already knit up designs of my own in the past, which were mostly hat patterns that I made up as I went along. It was a bit of trial and error, and I had the terrible habit of never writing the instructions down! This obviously didn’t work so well. I then challenged myself further while traveling in Malaysia, and wrote up a pattern for a pair of mittens. I found it incredibly challenging and difficult, and I still did not understand the concept of pattern grading, so the pattern was only offered in one size. I then ended up taking the pattern down from Ravelry, as I felt it should be offered in multiple sizes, but lost my motivation to update it.

Diyi Mittens

This experience put me off designing for a while, and it wasn’t until this year that I decided to try it again. This time, I hired a tech editor and also enlisted the help of several test knitters and am so glad I did! I found the whole process much easier just by having the support and encouragement of others, rather than designing the whole thing by myself and getting frustrated that it didn’t quite turn out the way I had envisioned. After completing this last hat pattern (which will be published this August), I feel much more motivated to continue with designing knitwear.

Annapurla Hat pattern (to be published in Aug)

What is your favourite yarn and/or fibre to work with? Why?

I’m a bit obsessed with Beaverslide (link: http://beaverslide.com/) wool at the moment, for several reasons.

  • It’s 100% Rambouillet (a French merino) and feels incredible! Soft, but also hardy and durable.
  • I love the natural looking colors.
  • It comes from a small family-owned operation in a tiny town in Montana, and I love knowing that I’m supporting a smaller outfit vs a very large company.

I’m also in love with the feel of alpaca. I would love to knit myself up a beautiful alpaca sweater one day soon!

beaverslide

English or Continental (or both)? Which way do you knit?

I’m an English style knitter, but I’ve been wanting to learn Continental for the longest time! I can do Continental when I’m knitting Fair Isle, but I need to practice more, otherwise my gauge gets wonky. I’m always in awe when I see others knitting Continental, especially when purling!

sweater2

Do you practice any other (fibre) crafts?

I recently started sewing, and I love the practicality of it! It’s motivating me to sew my entire wardrobe (eventually). I am also planning on starting natural dyeing very soon, which I am very excited about! After dyeing, machine knitting and weaving are next on my list of new skills to learn. I’m in love with all things natural fibre, so any type of craft that involves it (embroidery, spinning, weaving, etc.) is something that I would be interested in learning. The only problem is finding the time for all of this, and  the space – I would need a much bigger craft room!

Sewing and Knitting

What does knitting mean to you? Why do you do it?

Knitting means so many things to me. I find it very empowering to have the skillset to create something useful and practical with so little (two needles and some yarn) in an age where so many of us are addicted to our smartphones. It is also my creative outlet – there are just so many stitch patterns out there, along with different yarns, patterns and colours – the combinations are truly endless! I’ve also been drawn in more and more this past year to the ‘slow fashion’ movement, and love knowing exactly where my garments came from. Lastly, knitting is just pure fun! There is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than listening to an interesting podcast or documentary with a good mindless knitting project.

What do you have planned for the future as a designer? Do you want to make it a fulltime job or is it a hobby for you?

Right now, designing is a hobby for me. I don’t design nearly enough to even consider having it as a full-time job. For the future, I want to continue learning new design skills. I would love to try my hand at designing a sweater pattern, and learn all the aspects of garment shaping along the way. I feel as if it will be a ways down the road until I get to that stage, but for right now, I’m happy with acquiring new skills at my own pace. I don’t want to rush or pressure myself to design more, as I did that once and I found it sucked all the fun out of the actual design process. I’d rather go slow, and enjoy every moment of it.

Hat (still needs to be written out as pattern!)

You recently started a newsletter to support other designers and fibre people to turn what they are doing into a business, what gave you the idea?

I really enjoy the ‘tech and business’ side of my blog. When I first started to consider ways to get subscribers and more people to my website, I was clueless, but after sifting through countless tutorials online I managed to figure out how to bring in consistent traffic to my website! I know that it’s not an easy process, especially if you don’t have a background in blogging or web design, and since it’s something I enjoy doing, I want to help others in the fibre industry grow their business online. Part of it is also because I feel that if I can help others in the fibre industry grow, more and more people will become exposed to knitting and making their own clothes, and the popularity of knitting will increase to the point where it would be strange if you don’t know how to knit. That would be amazing.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

Are there plans to take this further in addition to your designing?

Yes! I have been very busy these past few weeks working on a new business idea. In addition to my newsletter, I am creating an online course with the same theme of teaching creators in the fibre industry on how to use social media to attract more traffic to their website and convert their traffic into long-term customers.

IMG_1042

Why do you think business support tailored to one (wo)men operations in the fibre industry is important?

Many one (wo)men operations in the fibre industry start small and have little business experience, if any. It’s a “learn as you go” process, and it can feel overwhelming when you’re just starting out! When you think of a knitwear designer, for example, you may think that it’s mostly designing knitwear all day, but in order to sell your patterns, you need to be able to market and promote them effectively! There is a lot of information out there related to online businesses and marketing, but it can be hard to find good business information related specifically to knitwear design and other fibre arts. I want to help fill this gap, by providing good business advice tailored to women in the fibre industry.

I also think it’s important because successful one (wo)men businesses are more likely to continue in the long term, and smaller operations gives them the flexibility to build our business from home. By working from home, they not only get to spend more time with their family with greater flexibility, but also contribute to the household income and to society by producing something of value. In turn, this creates a feeling of empowerment, a motivating factor to create even more beautiful things, in a positive feedback cycle.

 

You can see more of Su’s photography on Instagram, or check out her blog and Facebook page.

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